Why hire a physician assistant?

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Incorporating physician assistants into the established workflow of a clinic can sometimes pose challenges for employers, but PAs can be great assets after smoothing out initial bumps in the road.

With a PA, employers can expect to gain a ‘right hand,' according to Jennifer Anne Hohman, assistant director of professional advocacy at the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA). “PAs work in concert with physicians, complementing the ability to deliver a comprehensive range of medical and surgical services to diverse patient populations.”

Employing PAs enables physicians to increase the efficiency of clinical operations. “A PA's rigorous education, versatility and commitment to individualized treatment can help physicians and practices function more efficiently and enhance the continuity of health care,” Hohman said, listing improvements in revenue, practice efficiency, patient satisfaction and coordination of care among the potential benefits.

In 2009, median physician assistant salaries were $93,105 compared with physician salaries of $186,044, making PAs a more cost efficient option for medical practices, according to data from the National Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And this benefit comes without compromising patient satisfaction, Homan emphasized. Patient satisfaction levels ranked between 86% and 96% on variables including interpersonal care, confidence in the provider and perceived understanding of health problems, data from a study conducted by the Kaiser Foundation Research Institute indicated. Decreased patient waiting times and increased access to health care were also among the advantages  patients listed.

But before extending a PA a job offer, employers must thoroughly review the candidate's academic and professional background. The AAPA's PA credential verification service, offered in conjunction with the American Medical Association, is a great tool for this, Homan suggested. She added that the two certifications every employer should look for are the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) for recent graduates and the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam for PAs who have been practicing for more than 5 years.

Employers should also ask themselves what needs a PA can fill specific to the particular work environment. “Ask yourself, ‘What are the major issues?'” Hohman said. “Is it to reduce patient visit wait times? Help with follow-up care in the hospital office? PAs are experts at coordinating the many moving parts of a medical practice.”

The most successful physicians will be those who are able to maximize the benefits that a new PA can bring to the table.

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